In most regards, the 2020 Oscars are already a disappointment.
In a year full of cinematic diversity, from Lulu Wang's brilliant The Farewell and Greta Gerwig's revitalization of Little Women to Lupita Nyong'o's haunting turn in Us, the major category Oscar nominations are all too blatantly white and male.
Across all four Best Actor/Actress categories, 20 nominations in total, only one POC was named––Cynthia Erivo for her leading role in the Harriet Tubman biopic, Harriet. Apparently Awkwafina's Golden Globe-winning performance of a Chinese-American woman coping with a looming familial death from two conflicting cultural perspectives in The Farewell was not worthy of a spot over Charlize Theron playing former Fox News host Megyn Kelly.
The Best Director nominations are also, once again, entirely male, with Greta Gerwig getting categorically snubbed, despite Little Women receiving nods for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress. But at least that's better than the Oscar's treatment of Lulu Wang, who got snubbed entirely. Todd Phillips' Joker, on the other hand, received 11 nominations, more than any other movie this year, which says pretty much everything anyone needs to know about the 2020 Oscars… Or at least it would, if not for Parasite's Best Picture nomination.
In the entire history of the Oscars, only six foreign language films have been nominated for both Best International Film (formerly "Best Foreign-Language Film") and Best Picture. All of them have won the International category, but none have ever taken home the grand prize. After all, for an International Film to win Best Picture, that would require the Academy's overwhelmingly white male voting body (as of 2018, out of 8,000 members, 84% are white and 69% are male) to agree that a movie made by a POC outside of Hollywood is better than anything produced from within (and, more importantly, to actually read subtitles).
A lot of people were surprised by the 2019 Oscars when Green Book––a movie about race relations from the perspective of a white director, white writer, and white protagonist––beat Roma, Alfonso Cuaron's intimate portrayal of a poor Mexican housekeeper. In retrospect, the Academy's choice makes sense. Roma feels like an art film, whereas Green Book practically shouts, "It's okay, white people, we solved racism through friendship!" Considering the Academy's demographic, it was the obvious choice.
But that was 2019, and this is 2020. If the Oscars hope to maintain any glimmer of relevance in the new decade beyond just another masturbatory awards show where Hollywood elites pay lip service to diversity while endlessly patting white men on the back, Parasite needs to win Best Picture.
For one, Parasite absolutely deserves it. Bong Joon-ho's darkly comedic thriller about South Korea's class divide is unique, impactful, and more timely than any other film this year. Its themes surrounding ambition, desperation, loss, and social immobility both feel specific to South Korea, and maintain a universality that connects with audiences around the world. Joon-ho's direction and writing (he was also nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay) were spot on, approaching all of its characters with distinct empathy while subjecting them to some of the most brutal, unpredictable twists of any thriller in recent years. The acting was phenomenal too, and it's worth noting that Song Kang-ho's omission from the Best Lead Actor category displays a clear failure on the Academy's part to recognize the humanity of Asian actors and characters.
Still, Parasite seems better poised to win Best Picture than any international film in years past. That's not to knock any of the international Best Picture nominees that came before it, but rather to comment on the modern era. People are more globally connected than ever, thanks to the Internet, and Parasite falls into an overwhelmingly popular, accessible genre and encompasses universally appealing themes. In other words, the only barrier to entry is the subtitles.
It's time for Hollywood to recognize that as the world becomes more internationally connected, white western media can no longer be considered the end-all and be-all of cultural influence. Bong Joon-ho is living proof that some of the most important, talented artistic voices of our era are not white, American men and that diversity is a gift to creativity.